How Music Affects Work Speed

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Music is a fundamental attribute of the human species. Almost all cultures, whether it range from simple to advance, make music. More than 30,000 years ago, humans were already playing bone flutes, percussive instruments and jaw harps (Weinberger, 2006). Humans distinguish music from noise, defined as a sound, especially one that is loud or unpleasant or that causes disturbance. Music helps us understand not only how our brain makes sense of sound, but also how the brain is changed by our life in sound. Making sense of sound engages multiple brain systems (Kraus, White-Schwoch, 2015). Many systems in our brain work together for listening and language, and are strengthened by musical experience. Some of these processes are neural processing (such as sound details), rhythm, and cognition covering both attention and memory. Musicians tend to have not only enhanced neural encoding of music, but also enhanced speech skills over non-musicians (Musacchia G, Sams M, Skoe E, & Kraus N, 2007). Music, just like other sounds, arrive at the ear in the form of sound waves.

The external ear collects those sound waves, and the ear canal then funnels them to the eardrum. The waves vibrate the eardrum and those vibrations are relayed along the chain of tiny bones in the middle ear until they reach the stapes, which connects to the cochlea (Harvard Health 2011). Humans have the ability to distinguish a range of tempos between about forty beats per minute to about 300 beats per minute. Even with such a wide range being possible, humans prefer a much more narrow range, between about 117 beats per minute to 122 beats per minute. This small range of human preference has been the same since the 1940s. Knowing that music can have an effect on cognition and that we have a general idea of human preference in beats per minute, we can assume that different types of music (assuming they have different averages of beats per minute) have different effects on things like student work speed and comprehension. Past studies have shown that blood pressure and heart rate levels spike in humans listening to music with higher counts of beats per minute. Thus, increasing anxiety. Music with lower counts of beats per minute, cause a decline in heart rate and blood pressure levels, acting as a soother (Trappe 2010). Trappe’s study concluded that patients with anxiety, pain, stress, depressive syndromes, and sleeplessness benefit the most from listening to music genres like classical and that genres such as hip hop and rap music cause negative influences on patients. In 1918, Hyde and Scalapino reported that minor tones increased heart rate and lowered blood pressure, whereas “stirring” music increased both blood pressure and heart rate. “There are several individual reactions to music that are dependent on individual preferences, mood or emotions. It has been reported that music showed consistent cardiovascular and respiratory responses with different styles in most subjects, in whom responses were related to tempo and were associated with faster breathing. Fast music caused increases in blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate, and reduced baroreflex sensitivity. Slow music, on the other hand, caused a significant fall in heart rate and breathing frequency compared with the baseline. The responses were qualitatively similar in musicians and nonmusicians and apparently were not influenced by musical preferences, although musicians did respond more.” (Trappe 133)

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In the study of Janet and Hobart Landreth, twenty two college-level music students were studied as they listened to the first movement of Beethoven’s fifth symphony. The study lasted six weeks long and measurements were taken at three different times: before, during, and after experimental treatment. The experimental treatment consisted of auditorial tapes and repetitive listening sessions. The experiment was used to test the effects of learning and heart rate response. Stable segments of the test provoked elevated heart rate, while altering segments produced lowered heart rate. Heart rate response to music was found to be linked with the presence or absence of learning. Investigations of emotional arousal were limited, but there were indications shown that there is a conscious behavioral component involved with automatic adjustments that are not recognized by the organism. It is suggested that this component may have influenced the heart rates in the study’s subjects (Landreth 1974). It’s no secret that humans love music. Whether it be rap or country, or maybe something in between, everyone has a preference of music style. Music is everywhere. Music has the ability to evoke powerful emotional responses. Music can cause phenomena such as reminiscence. For example, a song can take you back to an important day or memory from your life. As humans, we have the ability to synchronize our body movement to external stimuli like music. Our auditory system has connections to the brain’s motor systems. These connections explain why music makes many people want to move to the beat of songs and stand up and dance along. Many people find expressing emotions to be difficult, so sometimes these people feel most comfortable expressing their feelings through song choice. “Emotional contagion refers to the phenomenon that perceiving an emotion can sometimes induce the same emotion. As an example, people display automatic frowning when observing facial expressions of fear and sadness.” (Heshmat 2018)

Listening to music can induce us to tune in to its beat. Previous neuroimaging studies have shown that the motor system becomes involved in perceptual rhythm and timing tasks in general, as well as during preference-related responses to music (Kornysheva, Von Cramon, Jacobsen, & Schubotz, 2010). The Max Planck Institute for Neurological Research did a study called “Tuning-in to the Beat: Aesthetic Appreciation of Musical Rhythms Correlates with a Premotor Activity Boost.” The purpose of the study was to show that the motor system becomes involved in perceptual rhythm and timing tasks. Results of the study demonstrated the involvement of premotor and cerebral areas during preferred compared to not preferred musical rhythms and indicate that activity in the ventral premotor cortex is enhanced by preferred tempo. Their findings support the assumption that the premotor activity increase during preferred tempo is the result of enhanced sensorimotor simulation of the beat frequency (Kornysheva, Von Cramon, Jacobsen, & Schubotz, 2010). Karthigeyan and Qiu Ting of Sunway University College did a study called, “The Effects of Music Tempo on Memory Performance Using Maintenance Rehearsal and Imagery”. Karthigeyan and Qiu Ting wanted to examine the effect of music tempo on memory performance when different learning strategies were used. They used a mixed model design of 120 participants. The participants were presented two word lists under three music tempo conditions: 60 bpm, 120 bpm, and 165 bpm. There was also a control condition, where they used either maintenance rehearsal or imagery in sequential order. Karthigeyan and Qiu Ting found that participants were not affected by the order in which rehearsal or imagery was used and participants scored significantly higher using imagery in comparison to maintenance rehearsal in all four music conditions. Participants achieved the highest memory performance in the 120 bpm in comparison to the control condition, 60 bpm and the 165 bpm conditions. Under within-subject conditions, no significant effect was found between music tempos and learning strategies, which means that the effect of a particular music tempo on a single participant was constant (Karthigeyan & Qiu Ting).

Previous studies have indicated performance levels, anxiety levels in regards to higher blood pressure and heart rate, learning rates, and emotional responses are all affected by music in terms of beats per minute. More specifically, music with lower counts of beats per minute, such as classical song selections, are typically associated with lower heart rates, lower blood pressure levels, and less anxiety. Music with tempos in our preferential range of 117 beats per minute to 122 beats per minute have been associated with higher memory performance. Music with higher counts of beats per minute have been linked to higher anxiety levels, accelerated heart rate and blood pressure levels, and less significance in memory and learning performance. Given this information, I am now interested in learning the outcome of taking four different levels of music tempos and correlating them with student work speed. Using elementary level math tests, it is predicted that students will accurately complete their given tests in the shortest amount of time when listening to the middle-tempo experiment group. It is also predicted that the groups listening to music in the highest category of beats per minute will perform the worst, while groups listening to no music and the song with the lowest beats per minute will score similarly in the middle of the two other categories.

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